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Podcasts

Surviving and Thriving through the Upcoming School Year in the Era of COVID

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“I’m so worried about the upcoming school year.” 

“I’m already struggling to be a good mom and a good employee. Now I have to be a good teacher too?!” 

“I have such high standards for myself. I’m afraid of my perfectionism as school starts again.” 

“I’m afraid for my health and for my child’s health.” 

“I feel like I’m choosing my job over my kid’s health.” 

Do any of these sound at all like the thoughts and feelings you’re having right now as the 2020 school year approaches? So many of us are facing such uncertain and difficult times as we attempt to figure out how to handle the school year as our country is still gripped by the COVID-19 epidemic.  

Luckily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cited fewer COVID-19 cases, and because the majority of the population is fully vaccinated, serious cases are limited; deaths rare. But this school year goes beyond rapid testing, COVID-19 tests, and wearing masks. Indoor masking is the least of concerns as students and staff return to public schools. The mental stress facing school communities as they aim to comply with what the CDC recommends and managing frustrated parents at school district meetings puts health and safety in a sad second place. At high schools, COVID is an even larger risk due to the independence of older students, and large classrooms with close contact.

We’ve heard from you loud and clear that you are looking for psych strength resources to help you cope through this year, and that is precisely why we recorded this episode. 

This episode is NOT an episode to teach you “10 Quick Mindset Tips to Force Yourself to Think Positively” or “5 Ways to Fit it All In and Do It Perfectly.” 

This episode is grounded in reality. In the reality that many of us will be facing a very difficult school year.  

But, here’s the thing. While there are many circumstances that are outside of our control as the school year opens up, we do have control over a few things. How we react. The boundaries we set. What we choose to be important and how we focus on it. The way we treat ourselves in the process. 

This episode is for you if you’re looking for some psych strength building techniques to help you thrive through this school year. Thriving through adversity is a real thing. It doesn’t mean that you have an EASY time. It means that you grow as a person, even when times are tough. 

You can do this. We’re here to help. 

Please reach out to us if there is anything else we can do to support you as school reopens, and do share this episode with someone who needs it. 

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Blogs

Psychological Strength in the Face of a Pandemic

Our message this week is a long one, but it’s worthwhile.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the coronavirus. You’ve probably also been affected in some way:

Events have been canceled. Businesses and schools have closed or shifted to remote options. Supplies at grocery stores have sold out in places, and the stock market has plummeted.

With organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) issuing the need for safety precautions like social distancing and working from home, and various levels of government calling various states of emergency, it’s hard not to worry…or worry that you’re not worrying enough. As the death toll rises in the United States the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a major public health crisis. 

For more than a decade, my day job as a clinical psychologist has been helping people learn to manage anxiety effectively. So here are a few tips to help you keep your cool while staying safe:

Understanding Your Mind

First, it’s important to understand a couple things about how the mind works:

This is an oversimplification, but it’ll make the point. There is a part of our minds that is capable of mental representation. This means we are able to daydream, worry, plan, and predict. We are capable of imagining things, creating them in our minds. 

Unfortunately, the part of our mind that controls emotions can’t tell the difference between real and imagined. That means that imagined worst case scenarios provoke the same emotional response as actual bad things happening. Our fear systems can sometimes get activated by things that are happening in our minds, not in real life.

Another thing you need to know is that our minds are master storytellers. They are designed to take a few data points, connect the dots, and fill in the gaps. Our minds make assumptions, create predictions, assign meaning, offer interpretations, and add judgments to the bits of information we take in. In other words, they spin up stories, and, when anxiety is writing that narrative, it’s going to err on the side of danger, overestimation of threat, and catastrophe.

Knowing these things, it is important to question your mind and to separate the facts from the fictions. Facts are the things that you can know for sure, right now, through your direct sensory experience. Fictions are the things elements and detailed added by your mind.

ACTION STEP 1: Hone in the FACTS of the situation.

A challenge with the coronavirus situation is that most of us have very few (if any) direct experience facts, so we have to rely on other sources of information. In an era in which information is readily available anytime, anywhere, misinformation is everywhere. 

Remember, anyone can post ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING, regardless of credibility or evidence to back it and one in which shock value is rewarded by clicks, views, and shares.  If you are one of those people who needs to see data collections and what studies show, then Google Scholar is a good tool, along with directives from the WHO and CDC. For years, the Scholar has offered access to the latest studies on infectious diseases including influenza viruses.

Our minds are powerful, but they are not always accurate, and this is evident when it comes to the illusion of truth effect. Our minds will believe things they hear repeatedly, regardless of the merits of that information. They mistake repetition for indication of truth. 

Even when we rationally know that the source of the information is questionable or that claims are alarmist or unrealistic, a part of our mind is still soaking up that information and encoding it…and it will stick like  – and in the long term be treated as – fact even though it didn’t start that way. This is not positive psychology and should be monitored closely.  Our mental toughness during these challenging times can wear on even mentally strong people. Building mental strength is just as important as your physical health.

ACTION STEP 2: Go on a media diet and limit your input.

Be incredibly mindful about the content and media you are consuming right now. Make sure it comes from reputable sources, and limit how often you check the news and social media.

In these uncertain times, credible sources are issuing cautions, and It’s hard to ignore all of the signs that suggest that something bad is, in fact, happening, which means that It’s not realistic to “just not worry about it” or “carry on with life as usual.” How do we determine when and how much to worry, and what to do about it?

I advise my patients to use this general framework to help tease apart realistic from excessive worry:

1.     Is this an actual problem (as opposed to an imagined or hypothetical one)?

2.     Is this an actual problem for today (as opposed to one that must be handled down the road at some point)?

3.     Is this an actual problem for today that I can control (as opposed to something that I have no control over and cannot influence, prevent, or change)?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, it’s time to problem-solve and come up with an action plan. However, if the answer to any one of them is “no”, it’s time to use your psychological strength to keep fear in check and to focus on what matters right here and now.

However, this does not mean go on a social media diet. During unprecedented times like these where social connections are harder to come by due to limited face-to-face interactions, we must utilize social media as a means of social support. 

Whether it’s staying in touch with loved ones, planning a socially distanced meetup outdoors to get some physical activity, or accessing mental health care online with a telehealth provider, social media may be used as a means to help you cope during this pandemic. There’s no substitute for human-to-human interaction and spending time with those we know, trust, and love can significantly improve your mental health even at a distance.

ACTION STEP 3: Use these filters to help size worry:

1.     Is this problem a real problem?

2.     Is this a problem for today?

3.     Is this a problem that I can control?

Coping skills like mindfulness (paying full attention to what you’re doing right here, right now), thought challenging (questioning the accuracy and helpfulness of what your mind is saying), and valued actions (acting in line with who and how you want to be as a person, regardless of external circumstances) can help keep excessive fear and worry in check.

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Podcasts

Parenting During a Pandemic

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If you’re a parent, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that these are very difficult times. During this global pandemic, parents are being asked to simultaneously do multiple different jobs at the same time, and the expectations and evaluations we’re placing on ourselves can be crushing. Pandemic parenting leaves adult feeling overwhelmed.

I recently stumbled upon a meme on Facebook, of all things, and I knew that I had to reach out to its author to ask her to come on the podcast.  

Here’s an excerpt from that meme: 

Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time. It’s not hard because you’re doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can. Prioritize your mental health.

Such compassionate words that so many of us need to hear right now. Words written by this week’s guest, Dr. Emily King.  

Dr. Emily King is a Licensed Psychologist and Heath Services Provider in private practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specializes in working with children and adolescents with anxiety, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr. King received her Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

In this episode we touch on: 

  • The importance of self-compassion in times like these 
  • How you can use anchor points in your routine to help everyone feel more comfortable where they’re at in their day 
  • The unique needs that kids might have during these times and how we can help them thrive through them. 
  • What self-care looks like and how we can cultivate it to help us show up as our best 
  • How to cultivate more compassionate, open communication with our partners and spouses during this intense time 

I know you’re going to appreciate this conversation with Dr. Emily King. Please share this with another parent who might need some compassion during this time. 

Categories
Podcasts

Maintaining Social Connection During a Pandemic

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We’re in an unprecedented time of “social distancing.” Many of us are experiencing the effects of spending time away from family and friends, and loneliness is one feeling so many of us are having. It’s important as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves to maintain social connections.

Human-to-human social connectedness was perhaps one of the hardest elements of the pandemic for those that were not infected. Even for those that had received the COVID-19 vaccines with low co-morbidity risk factors, public health advisories by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) limited the ability to gather. For close friends, social networks were not enough to truly connect with people but with the risk of a dangerous, infectious disease, options were limited. With mounting anxiety and depression mental health concerns, the need to connect for real and not just on social media because more important than ever before.

Because of this, I’m thrilled to welcome Peter Montoya back to the podcast. Peter was actually with us for a past episode that you can access here. Peter is a best-selling author, a keynote speaker, and the CEO of Thrive Union. Most importantly for today’s conversation, he’s an expert on social connection. 

In this very candid conversation, we talk about some important topics and share our own personal experiences: 

  • The importance of social connection and how much we actually need 
  • The different levels of social connection and how they influence our well-being 
  • How we can meet our social needs during this time of “distancing” 
  • What the silver lining of the pandemic has been 

No matter what your circumstances, I want you to know that I’m thinking about you and this community often. Please don’t be a stranger. Reach out and let me know what other topics you’d like me to cover during this time. 

I’m here for you!